#TBRChallenge – Danger Zone: A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker was written and published before the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes the similarities to the early days of it that much more striking. In a United States very similar to our own, after a series of disasters, large congregations of people are forbidden by law. Years later, virtual experiences have taken the place of concerts, sports events, and school for most people who survive. This book is about how people cope with the restrictions, and the difficulties and triumphs of emerging from them. It’s great!

Luce Cannon left her Orthodox Jewish family when she realized she was a lesbian and also wanted to pursue live music outside of her insular community as a career. Luce narrates first person chapters about the time before the mix of disasters, and we live through it with her. Rosemary Laws was a child when their lockdown began, so her tight third person narrative gives perspective on the fallout years later, all through part one. In part two, the narrative threads are united and we see musical performance from two angles: remote performances under the control of a corporation, and small live performances in houses, basements, etc. that have to hide from law enforcement because they are unlawful.

I really enjoyed this book! I had put it on hold for a bit to get a little distance from the early days of the real-life pandemic. Science fiction may be predictive, but it’s often speculation about the world we live in, exploring reflections of our society and where we’re going. Pinsker’s depiction of government and corporate interests subsuming American society during a crisis was chillingly prescient, I felt, as was the subsequent isolation and fear that fed consumerism but not souls. More heartening is the depiction of various musical communities and performers, and Rosemary’s gradual and beautiful path to experiencing first a remote live performance, then in-person concerts. Rosemary’s emergence from her isolated home on a farm in a minuscule town into the wider world, growing more savvy and self-reliant as she goes, is inspiring.

Pinsker is a performing musician herself, with several albums, and her inside knowledge comes through. Though my music performance is all through choral singing, there were too many personally resonant quotes in this book for me to count. Highly recommended!

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My September Reading Log

September involved some travel and other transitions for me, so I spent almost all of it reading a single series.

Fanfiction:
The Desert Storm by Blue_Sunshine and its sequel series are well over a million words of Star Wars time travel AU: when Luke and Leia are small, Ben Kenobi is caught in a sandstorm on Tatooine and ends up in his own past, when Anakin Skywalker is only three or four. Ben takes Anakin and his mother Shmi to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, not revealing his identity because his younger self is around, and starts trying to make changes to save the Jedi Order and the galaxy from the Sith. There’re a bajillion characters from the various Star Wars cartoons as well as the prequel movies, and some original characters, and of course each change causes more changes. I very much enjoyed all the elements about Jedi culture, Mandalorian culture, and Alderaan, without knowing what was canonical and what was original. The story gets indulgent at times (appropriate for fanfiction!), and needs serious proofreading, especially for certain homonyms, but that didn’t stop me from reading this epic. And reading it. And reading it. The series goes on to a second series, focusing on the alternate version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, which is still in progress.

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#TBRChallenge – New Author: Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson, published in 1937, is a charming small town novel about Barbara Buncle, who needs money to continue to support herself and her former nanny. After considering raising hens, she instead writes a novel about her charming small town that hews too closely to the real lives of her neighbors, despite her introduction of a magical plot element that changes her characters’ lives. Once the book is published and becomes popular because of its compulsive readability, many people in her village recognize themselves in the fiction, and realize they want more from their lives, some becoming more like their fictional reflections. But none realize the author of Disturber of the Peace, “John Smith,” is their own shy, middle-aged Miss Buncle.

I wouldn’t have normally picked this book up, but I enjoyed the humorous commentary on publishing, popular literature, and village life as well as the lowkey romance between Barbara and her publisher. It’s definitely a book for long, quiet evenings and cups of tea.

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My August Reading Log

Fiction:
The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer is first in a long series of British girls’ school stories set in the Tyrol in Austria; the Chalet School is explicitly British, in that the Austrian students strive to follow the traditions of English school stories such as playing pranks, celebrating the headmistress’ birthday, and playing cricket. Originally published in 1925, there’s not really any mention of World War One, but a fair amount of colonialism in India plays into the story indirectly. The story begins with the twins Dick and Madge, in their early twenties, trying to figure out how to survive economically in England sans parents or guardian, while bringing up their much-younger sister Josephine, called Joey, whose health is poor. They own their house and furniture, and have a small income from investment. Dick is in the Army, and will shortly return to India. Madge decides to open a school as living expenses in Austria are much cheaper, and they have visited a likely place. The rest of the story primarily focuses on Joey and the other students. Grizel and Juliet have the most problems, both due to absent parents; Grizel was dumped on her grandmother after her mother’s death, then reunited with her father after his second marriage…without telling the new wife he had a daughter, so it did not play out well. Juliet is raised by feckless parents in India, and is taught that she should look down on the “natives,” which causes her to act out against the non-English speakers. They cause plot conflict! Both of these characters end up having a nasty shock and being nicer people afterwards. The students’ adventures are fun and I enjoyed both plot and characterization, even though I was mainly in it for the 1920s flavor.

Desperation in Death by J. D. Robb is the fifty-fifth (!) novel in her Eve Dallas mystery series. The fifty-eighth is scheduled to release in January; I’m a little behind because I am reading these in library e-books. Eve and Roarke have a mild disagreement about how to take care of each other when Eve is swept into investigating a murder that reveals the existence of a massive human trafficking operation, one which brings back trauma from her childhood. Meanwhile, there’s a new police character, who works in the Special Victims Unit, and the reappearance of some minor characters from previous books in the series. I continue to read these because they are predictable, and the characters are familiar, and sometimes that is exactly what I need.

Fanfiction:
some things you just can’t speak about (wherever they come from, they’ll never run out) by raven (singlecrow) is a Deep Space Nine/M.A.S.H. fusion, with characters from the sitcom running a hospital ship during the Dominion War, near the Bajoran wormhole; though we see the station, the DS9 characters from the show are not shown (if they exist in this AU). This was great. It’s from BJ Hunnicutt’s point of view starting from when he’s essentially drafted, only to arrive while the ship’s under attack. Colonel Potter is a woman and Hawkeye Pierce is non-binary and half-Betazoid, both of which turned out really great. Did I mention this story was great? Well, it is.

Shrinkyclinks Hijinks by follow_the_sun is a lengthy MCU alternate universe series focusing on Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes that starts just before The Avengers movie and ends several movies later. In this AU, Bucky Barnes was born in the modern day and meets de-serumed Steve Rogers, who’s left S.H.I.E.L.D. behind, when they end up in the same hospital room. Bucky is already friends with Sam Wilson and Clint Barton from his time in the army, and gained his prosthetic arm from the mysterious governmental “Winter Soldier” program. Many events from the Marvel movies take a different path when Bucky is asked to join the Avengers initiative along with Tony Stark, whose trip to Afghanistan led to Bucky’s arm being amputated. There’s a Steve/Bucky romance with a ton of great banter and a not-unexpected twist to the events of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” which leads to a much better outcome for subsequent Avengers movies. Though a few spots hewed a little too closely to canon, in my opinion, I enjoyed this a lot, especially when the story made more logical and characterization sense than the movie events.

Clarity of Purpose by Face_of_Poe ties together the Andor tv series with the Star Wars movie Rogue One by speculating how different, isolated segments of the rebellion were able to find each other and work together. It’s not overly long but it’s a lot of fun seeing the early stages of Cassian Andor’s relationship with the droid K-2SO.

A hit, a very palpable hit by shem is an alternate universe of Pride and Prejudice with some original characters, including one of Mr. Bennet’s widowed sisters, named Clara Sutton, and various Darcy relatives. The plot focuses on Kitty, who is sent to keep her aunt Clara company and ends up enjoying a season in London. The author’s note reads “This work was first published at the Derbyshire Writers Guild in 2004-05. The story was written in installments not as a complete work. No editing or changes have been made to the text since.” There are some typos throughout for that reason, but overall I found this undemanding story very soothing.

The Peter Tingle by igrockspock is a very sweet and poignant Spiderman/Yelena Belova story with excellent dialogue; it’s set after the end of Spiderman: No Way Home and the end of the Hawkeye miniseries.

Post Haste by roboticonography is an epistolary alternate universe story in which Bucky Barnes doesn’t die, Agent Carter’s brother doesn’t die, and Captain America is not frozen in the ice…so the result is a wedding for Steve and Peggy that involves Shenanigans.

Nikki Vorsoisson and the Vorkosigan Legacy by nimblermortal follows Miles Vorgkosigan’s stepson Nikki to jump pilot summer camp, where he attempts to be just an ordinary kid and learns some excellent lessons. The pov was excellent in this.

The Prole Office by dptullos explores an Imperial Security department early in the Vorkosigan series; canon characters appear incidentally, but it’s mostly an original spy story.

Things by raven (singlecrow) is an alternate Star Trek universe in which everyone has a daemon, as in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. During the Dominion War, a suspicious officer puts Odo on trial because he does not have a daemon. Yes, there are deliberate echoes of ST: tNG’s “Measure of a Man.” This story has a dreaminess about it as it moves from past to present, showing all the different ways in which people are people. My only complaint was wanting a lot more Sisko.

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#TBRChallenge – Tropetastic!: Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell

Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell is the second book by this author, a standalone set in the same universe of The Resolution, but in a different star system with different characters. The paperback edition is to be released under Tor Books’ new romantic line, Bramble. The balance of romance/science fiction is more towards the science fiction side than Maxwell’s first book, Winter’s Orbit.

This review includes some general plot spoilers.

Ocean’s Echo features telepaths, one of my favorite science fictional elements. Tennal Halkana, a “reader” telepath, is on the run from family expectations when his aunt the Legislator (who seems equivalent to a prime minister or president of three Orshan planets) conscripts him into the army, where he’s to be forcibly bonded, or “synced” to an architect, a telepathic “writer” who will be able to control Tennal and command him. The architect is Surit Yeni, a junior officer whose powerful telepathic rank has been ignored until he’s unexpectedly asked to volunteer for the sync. Assuming the reader has consented, Surit agrees; he’s found it difficult to advance because his mother, his gen-parent, died while participating in a rebellion against the Orshan army. If Surit is given a promotion via the sync, his alt-parent Elvi will finally receive his gen-parent’s military pension.

Tennal views himself as a chaotic mess who harms anyone he’s close to; Surit is obsessively attentive to detail and used his photographic memory to make sure he’s following the smallest of regulations. Tennal can’t break away from expectations without breaking rules; Surit feels obligated to follow rules because his mother did not. However, Surit does not adhere to regulations without thought; when he learns Tennal did not volunteer, either for the army or for the sync, he realizes he’s been given an illegal order. For plot reasons I won’t spoil here, Tennal and Surit agree to pretend they’ve synced when they haven’t. You could call that two tropes in one: Soul Bonding and Fake Dating! And soon Slow Burn makes an appearance.

Orshan telepathy began with dangerous experiments using alien Remnants. The locating, use, and misuse of Remnants are major elements of the plot, which includes a dangerous expedition, military maneuvering, a coup, a civil war, a sort of trial, and lots of telepathy, because of course Tennal and Surit eventually have to sync for real, after they’ve begun to trust each other. The sync affects them in a lot of interesting ways that add to the story’s tension, up to and including near-death experiences and a sort of transcendence.

For Romance readers, yes there is a happy ending, one that’s a little open-ended and to me leaves the door open for a sequel that could show these characters in the wider world. I’d be there for that.

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My July Reading Log

Fiction:
These Prisoning Hills by Christopher Rowe is an atmospheric novella set in a post-apocalyptic Kentucky. The United States, or at least some of the Southern states, have been devastated by a war with an AI, who created the Voluntary State of Tennessee and destroyed swathes of the environment with weird composite creatures and colossal weapons with human cores. The humans fought back with their own cyborgian soldiers. Meanwhile, the Appalachians were stripped of their natural resources and barely retain sovereignty and self-sufficiency due to loss of population. Artificial beings, whom I pictured as brightly colored Lego-people, take care of mundane tasks such as harvesting and bus driving because there aren’t enough remaining humans to do so. The plot is fairly simple: there’s something valuable in the AI’s territory, a squad of federal soldiers went to get it, and since they didn’t come back, more soldiers have arrived to attempt a rescue. Marcia, the Kentuckian point of view character, is sixty-one, divorced, and tired, but she ends up guiding the rescue mission as well as reflecting on her memories of the original war. The whole story felt both familiar and innovative, and was absolutely jam-packed with cool ideas. Recommended.

Thornfruit by Felicia Davin is first in The Gardener’s Hand series. It’s secondary world fantasy set on a tide-locked world. In some countries, psychic/magical abilities are accepted, in others they’re denied, and in another, they’re forbidden. Evreyet Umarsad, a bullied tomboy who grows up to be competent, compassionate, and trained by her father to use a fighting staff, first encounters tiny, ragged Alizhan when they are both children. Raised by one of the elites of their town, Alizhan is able to read minds, though she is easily overwhelmed by too many people, and cannot distinguish people’s physical features. They’re young adults before Ev learns Alizhan’s name, and Alizhan reveals she knows Ev is attracted to her. Together, they fight crime! Or, well, figure out a mystery surrounding Alizhan’s guardian and mentor, make new friends, uncover conspiracies, and head off on a ship together for the next book in the trilogy.

Nightvine by Felicia Davin is second in The Gardener’s Hand trilogy and has a darker tone, literally as well as figuratively, because Alizhan and Ev, who’ve finally accepted they’re in love, along with new gender fluid friend Thiyo, from the mysterious Islands, travel to the Night side of their tide-locked planet as they try to unlock their enemy’s secrets in a place where there’s little privacy and an unsafe environment. They become very close to Thiyo. Heads up that this one ends in a terrifying cliffhanger.

Shadebloom by Felicia Davin is third in The Gardener’s Hand trilogy. I found it more stressful than the others because the trio of characters are separated for large segments of time, and Thiyo is dealing with some very upsetting issues for the whole first section. Also there are some scary natural disasters that aren’t entirely natural. But the three of them finally start to resolve their mutual attraction, and after many setbacks, achieve victory over their enemy and end up happy together. It’s a page-turner! And very satisfying in the end.

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer is first in a long series of British girls’ school stories set in the Tyrol in Austria; the Chalet School is explicitly British, in that the Austrian students strive to follow the traditions of English school stories such as playing pranks, celebrating the headmistress’s birthday, and playing cricket. Originally published in 1925, there’s not really any mention of World War One, but a fair amount of colonialism in India plays into the story indirectly. The story begins with the twins Dick and Madge, in their early twenties, trying to figure out how to survive economically in England sans parents or guardian, while bringing up their much-younger sister Josephine, called Joey, whose health is poor. They own their house and furniture, and have a small income from investment. Dick is in the Army, and will shortly return to India. Madge decides to open a school as living expenses in Austria are much cheaper, and they have visited a likely place. The rest of the story primarily focuses on Joey and the other students. Grizel and Juliet cause the most plot conflict, both due to absent parents; Grizel was dumped on her grandmother after her mother’s death, then reunited with her father after his second marriage…without telling the new wife he had a daughter, so it did not play out well. Juliet is raised by feckless parents in India, and is taught that she should look down on the “natives,” which causes her to act out against the non-English speakers. Both of these characters end up having a nasty shock and being nicer people afterwards. The students’ adventures are fun and I enjoyed both plot and characterization, even though I was mainly reading it for 1920s flavor.

My July #TBRChallenge book was A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys.

Fanfiction:
360-degree feedback by bysine is an amazing Marvel Cinematic Universe story from the point of view of Wong, Sorcerer Supreme. It includes characters from the Dr. Strange movies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the She Hulk tv series, and The Falcon and The Winter Soldier tv series in glorious array, all with delightful dialogue. While trying to recover the damange done to Kamar-Taj by the Scarlet Witch, Wong is being haunted by the ghost of Xu Wenwu (Shang-Chi’s dad, the formerly immortal Ten Rings warlord), who has sarcastic opinions on everything he does. Wong holds his own, of course. There’s also a lovely portrayal of Mordo and his past with Wong, and a way their friendship can continue. Highly recommended. It’s great.

Absurdist Viral Posts by canistakahari are a series of three ficlets about Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers that are…well…absurdist. And fun. The dialogue and characterization are great. They are all based on “a viral post or meme.” The last one taught me an interesting historical fact. And all three made me laugh.

some things you just can’t speak about (wherever they come from, they’ll never run out) by raven (singlecrow) is a Deep Space Nine/M.A.S.H. fusion, with characters from the sitcom running a hospital ship during the Dominion War, near the Bajoran wormhole; though we see the station, the DS9 characters from the show are not shown (if they exist in this AU). This was great. It’s from BJ Hunnicutt’s point of view starting from when he’s essentially drafted, only to arrive while the ship’s under attack. Colonel Potter is a woman and Hawkeye Pierce is non-binary and half-Betazoid, both of which turned out really great. Did I mention this story was great? Well, it is.

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#TBRChallenge – Opposites Attract: A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys

A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys has solarpunk, hopepunk, and friendly aliens who nevertheless have a different perspective on saving your planet versus leaving it behind. As I’ve loved all of Emrys’ previous novels, I snapped this one up and was so impatient to read it that I went out of order on this challenge and read it back in April. I was extremely pleased to find the book is in conversation with Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy. There are references to Star Trek as a human reference point for first contact, and at one point Emrys quoted Butler’s Parable books in the most perfect place imaginable. As a whole, this novel’s embrace of possibility feels like a love letter to human stories about space and the future: science fiction at its best.

The first-person narrator of this novel lives in the Anacostia Watershed, in what we’d call Maryland. The Watershed areas are their own political entities, separate from the nation states that surround them and from corporations, which are walled off enclaves, such as the “aisland” of Zealand near Australia. Using extensive environmental sensors and collective discussion via their own internet-like communications network, the Watershed people have been slowly and steadily improving the effects of climate change, with a long-term view. Their Dandelion Network relies not only on crowdsourcing, but algorithms that can give more weight to expert opinions and sensor readings. They are usually but not always at odds with the nation states, and mostly at odds with the corporations, whose pursuit of profit created and supported environmental effects that brought humanity to the brink of extinction. As you might imagine, there’s tension there!

When aliens arrive in the Anacostia Watershed, all three aspects of human society need to work together to decide what to do, despite their competing wants, needs, and desires. And then the network on which the Watershed people rely, with its weighted algorithms related to the community’s moral principles, becomes unstable and untrustworthy, making everything a thousand times more difficult. Intersectionality and coalition-building among people with diverse viewpoints are integral parts of the novel. The narrator, Judy Wallach-Stevens, is a Jewish woman from a family of activists; she and her wife are parents and a co-parents with another couple. There are trans characters, a character with a prosthetic arm, an assortment of genders, and a character with autism who’s part of a larger community of Corporate “techies,” who have found a way around the very complex gender presentation games played by Corporate society. Judy’s Jewishness and that of some of her family infuses the narrative, especially resonating with the alien social role of Questioner.

This is a book about negotiation and arguing and discussing; about making mistakes; and about trusting each other afterwards and finding ways to come back together, on both the political and familial levels. Flawed human beings, anxious and sleep-deprived, must nonetheless make important decisions, using their brains instead of their base instincts to “look for the big ape.” It’s a look at how what we share can be just as important as what we can offer each other, and how opposite sides can come to terms that provide benefit to all. It’s a wonderfully complex book and will, I think, reward re-reading and discussion a thousand-fold. Highly recommended.

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My June Reading Log

Fiction:
Witch King by Martha Wells only just came out, so I will avoid major spoilers, but it’s great.

The worldbuilding is similar to the Raksura books in that there are different sentient species who interact, but except for the demons while in their home Underearth (possibly another dimension or magical realm?), they are all human in appearance. The different types of people use magic in different ways, some of which harm others, some of which involve working with magical elemental beings. When the story opens, a stable situation has been upended. Alternating chapters, skillfully tied together, show the present problem and how it’s reflected by, and relates to, the past.

The “Witch King” of the title is Kai, a demon who inhabits the mortal form of a dead human, initially through a longstanding treaty with the nomadic Saredi people. Kai, with his magical abilities, had a major part to play when invaders arrived to destroy and colonize. We follow his point of view throughout as he works with old friends and new to find a missing friend and figure out what’s happening back at what seems to be the center of power.

Essentially, the story is about coalition building. It’s about how coalitions require effort, sacrifice, compromise, and attention to make sure they don’t collapse or swing towards authoritarianism as time goes on. I felt resonances between the characters in the story and how activism and coalition-building happen in our world, and seeing this in fiction felt validating and hopeful.

Fete For A King by Sam Starbuck is an extremely charming male/male romance between the elected king of a small imaginary European country and a celebrity chef who is also a Maxtagram influencer. Gregory is nervous about his impending coronation and determined not to rely too heavily on his father Michaelis, who is retiring from the role; he’s also worried that he’ll need to find a husband soon. Gregory’s cousin Alanna, his chief of staff, hires American Eddie Rambler to cater the coronation feast. Eddie is outgoing, friendly, and really excited by all Askazer-Shivadlakia has to offer. Their romance is completely adorable and I loved every minute of it.

Infinite Jes by Sam Starbuck is second in The Shivadh Romances. Non-binary podcast host Jes Deimos and their teenaged son Noah (who has his own podcast!) move back to their homeland of Askazer-Shivadlakia, a fictional European country ruled by an elected king. Recently-retired widower King Michaelis is at loose ends, not wanting to interfere as his son establishes himself as the new king, but deathly bored with dictating the political minutiae of his reign for future generations. However, a podcast might be just the thing; perhaps the charming kid he met on the train can help? This romance is exceedingly sweet and satisfying. I highly recommend this series.

Three Cowboys and a Baby by Kate Pearce is a contemporary romance that begins stressfully with a baby being left behind by his father, to be cared for by three ex-Marines at an isolated ranch, while the father flies to Africa for an unspecified job, trusting his friends will step up. I found this very stressful and had to skim a bit; the flaky father had not informed the mother where the baby was, and after she returns from her deployment she ends up doing a lot of cross-country traveling before being reunited with her son. Jen, the mother, is in the Navy and works on a hospital ship as a midwife; she’s competent and confident except when it comes to romance. Noah, the gruff former gunnery sergeant who took primary care of the baby before Jen arrived, finds it difficult to trust and swears he never wants children, while at the same time being gentle and devoted to the baby. Reluctantly, they begin to respect each other. Then, they get snowed in. For a long time. Jen and Noah are competent at each other and soon their attraction becomes too intense to ignore. Steaminess ensues! I was in the mood for something light, and aside from the anxiety-filled setup, this book filled the bill.

Dionysus in Wisconsin by E. H. Lupton is set in a world very like ours, during the Vietnam War, but with magic as a somewhat mundane and accepted thing. Ulysses Lenkov is ABD (All But Dissertation) in the academic study of magic, from a family of magic users, and can see and speak to ghosts. He earns extra money taking care of magical problems, and keeps in contact with magic users all around Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives. One of those magic users brings him a mysterious warning about an imminent event that might prove catastrophic. Ulysses tracks down Sam Sterling, an archivist who appears to be in the center of the issue. Sam, whose given name is Dionysus, seems destined to become a vessel for the actual Dionysus to enter the world; Ulysses wants to prevent that at all costs. Their romance is lowkey but I found it very satisfying, especially in how it tied into the magical plot. I’d be interested to hear what Madison locals think of it, and I’d happily read another book with these characters. I loved the bits about the academic study of magic, and the practical spells Ulysses performed, that gave a really good sense of how magic works in this world. I would happily read a lot more with this worldbuilding, as well.

Fanfiction:
Home Like Apple Pie by RabbitRunnah Check Please! alternate universe in which Jack left hockey after a couple of years and isolated himself from his college friends. Years later, Bitty re-encounters him as a restaurant owner and chef. Romance ensues!

Perdition’s Flames by i_ship_an_armada is a “role” crossover, in which the writer has taken two roles by the same actor (Benedict Cumberbatch) in different shows as a connecting factor. I love seeing this done creatively! In this case, genetic experimentation at Baskerville gives John and Sherlock extra-long lives, and they end up on the U.S.S. Enterprise (reboot version) in the midst of a plot to start a war with the Klingons.

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New Release! Dissenter Rebellion: The Rattri Extraction

Dissenter Rebellion: The Rattri Extraction is on sale now!

A Place of Refuge series.

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#TBRChallenge – Love Is Love: The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune was a gift from a friend who is a bookseller.

I’m glad I made the time to read it; it’s a very soft, hopeful novel set in an alternate world, roughly contemporary with ours, which includes many different magical populations and a 1984-like government that requires them to be registered and controlled (“See Something, Say Something” signs are everywhere.) The Protagonist Linus Baker is a meticulous career bureaucrat whose job is to inspect magical orphanages, to make sure the children are not being mistreated. He’s unexpectedly assigned a case at an island orphanage with children like no others he’s ever met, including an incredibly powerful six year old and one child whose species is unknown.

Linus takes his cat and leaves behind the city, where it always rains, emerging into the literal sun and seeing the ocean for the first time. His innate kindness soon wars with his fear of how he’ll be treated by Extremely Upper Management if he fails their expectations, and what will become of him afterwards, but he soon finds ways to assert himself as well as protect the children, and to tentatively reach out to potential new friends. Linus is strongly drawn to the mysterious master of the orphanage, who has his own secrets. It’s a sweet and satisfying book, even when elements of it are melancholy.

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